An example, says local producer Kim Schwarzkopf, is Station 19, a Grey’s Anatomy spinoff set in Seattle but shot (largely) in Los Angeles. Schwarzkopf helped shoot some of the show’s local scenery. Perhaps, with Harbor Island, a Seattle-set series like this could be filmed here in its entirety, she says. “You could shoot [both] the outdoor stuff and the indoor stuff here…. You don’t have to break the production apart into multiple cities,” she says. “Makes it a lot easier.”
TV productions also tend to require a great deal of space to build and contain sets that anchor a series (like Monica and Rachel’s living room in Friends, say). At 117,000 square feet, Harbor Island Studios could be a good fit for this kind of work, Griffiths says. “It has all the qualities that I have seen in other converted stage spaces in cities like Austin and New Orleans,” she adds. “It has enormous potential.”
That was also the message that Kate Becker, creative economy and recovery director of King County’s Executive Office, was promoting during a February industry tour of Harbor Island Studios. The building, part of a former flour mill complex, sits on Seattle’s Harbor Island, an artificial island in the Duwamish River nestled between Seattle’s industrial district, West Seattle and Elliott Bay.
On a sunny winter day, a group of local producers, filmmakers, videographers and other industry insiders had gathered near the concrete loading dock of an inconspicuous building dwarfed by the giant concrete silos of the former flour mill. A mammoth container ship plodded along the Duwamish. In the distance, the West Seattle and Spokane Street bridges sliced across the view of Mount Rainier like concrete electrical wires. White shipyard cranes and multicolored Rubik’s cubes of stacked shipping containers stood out against the blue sky.
The Fisher Flour Mill’s grain silo and milling complex were among the first structures to be built here after the creation of Harbor Island in the early 1900s. A warehouse was added in the 1980s. After King County purchased the complex nearly two decades ago, the property remained largely vacant and became a graffiti-clad, steampunk “ghost town” — until 2020.
That’s when King County’s Kate Becker got word that Three Busy Debras, a Warner Bros/Adult Swim TV series produced by Amy Poehler, needed a place to shoot indoors. “How can we say no to that?” Becker said to the assembled group at Harbor Island. King County had been eyeing the location for a while, but the pandemic had put the need to employ local crews into stark relief. “So we scrambled to get this place ready to have big crews in here,” she said.